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International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

Using the documentary method to analyse qualitative data in logistics research

Alexander Trautrims David B. Grant Ann L. Cunliffe Chee Wong
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Alexander Trautrims David B. Grant Ann L. Cunliffe Chee Wong, (2012),"Using the documentary method
to analyse qualitative data in logistics research", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics
Management, Vol. 42 Iss 8/9 pp. 828 - 842
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42,8/9 Using the documentary method
to analyse qualitative data in
logistics research
Alexander Trautrims and David B. Grant
Logistics Institute, University of Hull, Hull, UK
Received 2 December 2011
Accepted 16 January 2012 Ann L. Cunliffe
Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque,
New Mexico, USA, and
Chee Wong
Logistics Institute, University of Hull, Hull, UK
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Purpose This paper aims to examine the use of a qualitative data analysis technique, the
documentary method, in the development of knowledge in logistics. The value of the method is
illustrated through an example of its application in a study of in-store logistics processes at six leading
European retail stores.
Design/methodology/approach Extant literature is outlined regarding philosophical
underpinnings of the documentary method and is followed by an explanation of the method and its
application. Finally, an illustration is provided of its adaptation and use in a logistics research project.
Findings Drawing on a social constructionist approach, the documentary method can add to the
development of logistics research by providing rich descriptions of actual practice, problems and
issues in logistic processes compared with the stated goals of such processes.
Research limitations/implications The documentary method is not suitable for all areas of
logistics research and will need certain adaptations and adjustments when transferred into particular
research contexts. In addition, the research question, philosophical stance, and knowledge of
qualitative methodologies will ultimately determine the appropriateness of the technique.
Originality/value The paper presents the first application of the documentary method in the field
of logistics.
Keywords Qualitative research, Social constructionism, Documentary method, Interview analysis,
Distribution management, Research methods, Information management
Paper type Conceptual paper

Acceptance of qualitative methods in logistics research has increased in recent years
despite the dominance of quantitative methods. However, their application is still in its
infancy and the wide range of available qualitative methods still relatively
underexplored compared to other disciplines. Accordingly, this special issue is
devoted to understanding and exploring how qualitative techniques can contribute to
International Journal of Physical logistics research. To this end, this paper introduces a qualitative data analysis
Distribution & Logistics Management technique based on a social constructionist perspective the documentary method
Vol. 42 No. 8/9, 2012
pp. 828-842 that originates from educational sciences. The paper discusses how this qualitative
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited method can enrich our knowledge of the practical issues involved in logistics
DOI 10.1108/09600031211269776 processes. The structure of the paper is as follows: First, extant literature is outlined
regarding the philosophical underpinnings of this method, followed by a positioning Using the
and explanation of the documentary method. Third, the paper discusses how data can documentary
be collected and analysed using this method through an example from a logistics
research project, and finally, draws conclusions about its value to logistics research. method
We argue that the nature of the documentary method enables researchers to capture
rich details of the micropractices of logistic processes while also providing an
analytical protocol that draws generalisable principles from unique cases. It can 829
therefore supplement a logistic researchers methods toolkit.

Overview of qualitative research in logistics

According to Mentzer and Kahn (1995) the logistics discipline is dominated by
quantitative and positivist research, perhaps arising from the nature of logistics as an
applied science with strong engineering roots. In addition, Stock (1997, p. 515) argued
that as a comparatively young discipline, logistics does not have a rich methodological
heritage and therefore relies on the usage of concepts, definitions, theories, rules and
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principles from other disciplines. Stock (1990, p. 4) also called for more involvement
with other disciplines to broaden the horizon of logistics research and enable a logistics
researcher to escape the traditional perspective of the discipline. Since then this
horizon has broadened, with qualitative research perhaps entering a more established
stage as evidenced by Sachan and Dattas (2005) analysis of almost 450 articles from
three leading logistics journals published between 1999 and 2003. They demonstrated
that while the majority of publications still use quantitative methods, there is a shift
towards more qualitative techniques. They concluded such increased acceptance might
be caused by the growing maturity of the discipline and the focus on more why and
how questions; consistent with the boundary-spanning issues represented in Kent
and Flints (1997) sixth era in the development of logistics research. The disciplines
move towards other areas of the supply chain, rather than just goods flow and
technical operations, is perhaps a response to the positivist focus on structural issues
which often ignores those parts of the supply chain where human factors and
interaction are an integral part of the process. This move is international, as Arlbjrn et al.s
(2008) analysis of Nordic PhD research in logistics demonstrates. They found researchers
gravitating towards theory development rather than theory testing, and using more
qualitative case-based approaches as identified earlier by Vafidis (2007).
A number of researchers have suggested that logistics research can be enriched by
the use of inputs from other disciplines and by qualitative methods such as case
studies and action research (Naslund, 2002; Naslund et al., 2010). Yet at least two issues
remain controversial in terms of their effect on the credibility of research: the
methodological soundness and rigour of qualitative approaches (Halldorsson and
Aastrup, 2003). Some researchers promote rigour through methodological
triangulation and a combination of qualitative and quantitative, or inductive and
deductive methods (Mangan et al., 2004). Within the broader and more established
discipline of the sociology of knowledge, scholars acknowledge that rigour is based on
being consistent in terms of using methods of data collection, analysis and theorising
appropriate to a particular research paradigm (Cunliffe, 2010a). The paper draws on
this premise to explain how the documentary method enriches understanding of how
human perceptions and behaviours influence the operation and effectiveness of the
logistics process.
IJPDLM Research paradigms and philosophical underpinnings
42,8/9 The paradigm debate, which addresses the philosophical underpinnings of various
approaches to research, foreshadows the quantitative-qualitative question by claiming
that the first question researchers should ask is not what method to use, but what
paradigm to work from (Morgan and Smircich, 1980). A paradigm is an entire
constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on, shared by the members of a
830 given community (Kuhn, 1996, p. 175), and paradigms change when an old
Weltanschauung (worldview) cannot explain anomalies and research results. New
paradigms can assist in highlighting new problems and looking at old problems from a
different perspective, but can take time to become accepted by the research community
as researchers tend to remain in paradigms that best match their personal
Weltanschauung and contest new paradigms as being non-rigorous. At the most
basic level, the two extremes are objectivism and subjectivism; with objectivism often
being equated with quantitative and subjectivism with qualitative methodologies.
The objectivist end of the continuum assumes there is an external reality into which
humans are socialized that can be studied in a neutral way from an outsider/expert
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perspective. Researchers study structures, systems and processes as concrete realities

(the what of social reality), and often use methods such as surveys, coded structured
interviews, protocol analysis, grounded theory and realist-based ethnography to
generate quantifiable and/or categorized data that can be generalized across contexts.
Subjectivist researchers view realities as socially constructed and maintained in
everyday interactions, and that people are reflective and intentional actors. They study
culturally-situated meanings participants perceptions and understanding of a
situation by using methods such as narrative analysis, participative action research,
autoethnography and interpretive ethnography (Cunliffe, 2010b) to generate
qualitative data. While their research focus lies on how realities are constructed
by actors in a particular context, subjectivist researchers believe that an understanding
of practical experience, issues and problems in one context offers insights of relevance
to other contexts.
There are many other positions that researchers can take between these two
extremes (see Cunliffe (2010a) for a more in-depth explication), and continuing debate
lies around the issues of the relevance and rigour of research conducted from the
various paradigms. If, as subjectivist researchers believe, they are part of the process of
meaning-making and therefore cannot be neutral observers, then how can their
research be rigorous and trustworthy? This issue will be addressed later in the paper in
relation to the documentary method.

Broadening the field: the documentary method

This paper suggests that a qualitative data analysis technique currently used in
educational studies the documentary method has value for logistics research
because it can offer insights into how human perceptions and actions influence the
implementation and effectiveness of logistics processes. This method falls into Kent and
Flints (1997, p. 26) boundary-spanning era because it focuses on understanding
behavioural issues including inter-functional cooperation and coordination.
Developed by Bohnsack (1989), initially to research the evolution of biographies in
youth cultures in Germany, the documentary method is situated towards the subjectivist
end of the continuum. It broadly falls within a social constructionist perspective
(Cunliffe, 2008), being based on the premise that our sense of what is real is a practical Using the
accomplishment, achieved through the contextual, embodied, ongoing interpretive work documentary
of people (Garfinkel, 1967) rather than in objective structures and systems. Based on the
work of Bourdieu (1977) and Schwandt (2003), its philosophical roots lie in continental method
philosophy, in particular the Frankfurt School. Bohnsack developed the method as a
way of accessing human action and the system of meanings to which it belongs
(Schwandt, 2003, p. 296) and representing the actors explicit and tacit interpretations of 831
their world by presenting types or patterns of meaning.
Bohnsack (2010) considers that there are two levels of knowledge: the reflexive or
theoretical knowledge and the practical or incorporated knowledge. The latter
knowledge is also called atheoretical knowledge by Mannheim (1984) or tacit
knowledge by Polanyi (1967) and assumes that there is an underlying mental structure
in actions. This knowledge is owned by the research participants or actors and thus
differs from an objectivist stance where the researcher alone has a privileged access to
this knowledge. The documentary method spans the boundaries of these two levels of
knowledge by tapping into the practical tacit knowledge of actors, which may even be
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outside the awareness of the participants themselves, as a means of extrapolating more

general theoretical knowledge. It does so by focusing on the following (Bohnsack, 2010):
Practice what are the common experiences, meanings, and routine practices that
emerge and are maintained in the interactions of people around logistic processes?
On answering the question how are logistics processes enacted in everyday
On obtaining data based on actors experiential knowledge and interpreting,
reconstructing and explicating the actors tacit meanings.
On the researcher constructing types from these meanings. The researcher
should not try and remove all prejudgements, but rather take them into
consideration as part of the process of making sense of others experience.
On participants language and frames of orientation as a means of making
actions and events understandable to others. Participants express themselves in
a way that includes information about their perception of reality without
necessarily explicitly mentioning or even defining such understanding. The
researcher extracts this underlying knowledge from actors stories and language.

Based on the above, the documentary method offers a way of bridging the relevance and
rigour gap (Kieser and Leiner, 2009) the claim that research cannot be both relevant
(having practical value) and rigorous (building robust theory through controlled
research design protocols). It focuses on relevance by exploring participant meaning,
and rigour by providing a protocol for developing generalized types in a systematic way.
Bohnsack addresses the issue of rigour arguing that actors subjective interpretations
have to be transformed into an objective mode before they can be analysed. He uses a
reconstructive methodology in which actors constructs are disassembled and the
researcher interprets and reconstructs the constructs in three stages: telling, interaction
and discourse. Hence, reconstruction considers not only subjectively intended meanings,
but also has to consider the objective structure of meaning (Wagner, 1999).
In this way, the documentary method bridges the gap between purely interpretive
methods (e.g. some narrative methods, autoethnography, interpretive ethnography,
IJPDLM hermeneutic analysis) which focus only on participant meanings and more positivist
methods (e.g. surveys, coded interviews, boundary/object analysis) which take abstract
42,8/9 generalizations from the data based on the researchers preconceived framework. This
is particularly relevant to logistics where the focus often lies on the system and its
elements and how the system is enacted in practice is often ignored. From a social
constructionist perspective, systems are created, maintained and changed in the
832 interpretations, tacit understandings and interactions of people. The documentary
method provides a way of reconstructing tacit knowledge into atheoretical knowledge
that can be generalized to other logistics contexts. By addressing rigour and relevance,
the documentary method could be appropriately used as part of ethnographic, case
study and grounded theory methodologies.
The documentary method generates data from narrative interviews with
organizational members. The narrative interview aims to collect data from open
communication, which gives opportunities to participants to describe their everyday
interactions and practices, their views and perceptions. This does not mean that data
collection happens in a totally unstructured way, but that the interviewee responds to
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an initial narrative generating question, followed by the researcher probing certain

aspects (Nohl, 2006).
From a social constructionist perspective participants knowledge lies within their
discourse and therefore data analysis uses interview transcripts to extract issues
arising from the participants responses. Specifically, the analysis focuses on narrative
pieces of the transcripts which are particularly rich (Nohl, 2006). From a qualitative
perspective every narrative, and therefore also those derived through interviews,
consists of two meaningful aspects: what is said, and how it is said (Fontana and
Frey, 2003):
Each narrative has two parts; a story and a discourse. The story is the content, or chain of
events. The story is the what in a narrative, the discourse is the how. The discourse is
rather like a plot, how the reader becomes aware of what happened, the order of appearance of
the events (Sarup, 1996, p. 17).
Consequently, data analysis takes the existence of these two levels into account. This
differs from other qualitative methods such as conversation analysis and discourse
analysis because the former focuses on the how the mechanics of a conversation
(e.g. the organization and sequencing of talk, turn taking), while the latter focuses on
the what the language and the structures of meaning. Thus, the documentary
method is for researchers interested in exploring how reality is shaped by respondents
and what that reality might be. The narrative interview is analyzed and reconstructed
in order to reveal the meanings expressed by the respondent, drawing on the what
and the how of the interpretive process.
This occurs as the researcher differentiates between respondents intrinsic
understandings and those that emerge after probing. This is done by explicating
common and uncommon expressions, phrases and language, rather than using
positivist methods such as coded interviews and word counts (Meuser, 2006).
Bohnsack differentiates between participants immanent (i.e. inherent) meaning and
the documentary meaning, which is the researchers explication of meaning from the
text. Thus, the interpretation has to take place in three steps as shown in Figure 1: the
rephrasing interpretation of immanent meanings; the researchers reflective
interpretation and reconstruction of meanings, topics, and their connection back to
Using the
Narrative Interviews
with research participants documentary

Transcribe interviews 833

Rephrasing interpretation

Reflective interpretation
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Comparative analysis

Figure 1.
Mapping the documentary
Create a typology method

the context and the research aim; and a comparative analysis. Only in the reflective
interpretation is the development of discourse and reality analysed (Wagner, 1999).
Specifically, in the rephrasing interpretation (what is said in the interview), the
researcher looks for topic changes and rephrases the text. By rephrasing the interview,
the documentary method reveals different and more generalizable meanings that
objectify processes within the data (Berger and Luckmann, 1966). The rephrasing
interpretation is then followed by the reflective interpretation of how the topic is
treated and how reality is constructed. To gain this insight, the researcher reconstructs
the frame in which reality is created (Nohl, 2006). This frame is then used in the third
step, the comparative analysis. The comparative analysis looks at how the
interviewees responded to certain questions, the way they tackled the problem or
the issue and in which sequence they constructed their response.
Rigour is addressed by conducting sufficient interviews to include all aspects and
dimensions of knowledge that are necessary for the comparison of interview content and
the analytical development of relevant concepts and categories. This will depend on the
topic under study and the organizational context. The aim is conceptual representativity
(Przyborski and Wohlrab-Sahr, 2008) (having a range of views, job positions and
perspectives, etc.) rather than an accurate representation of an objective reality.
Different types are based on differences and commonalities of the characteristics
and variables of an object can be extracted through them (Nohl, 2006). The researcher
then creates a typology by grouping types together. Within one typology elements
should be as similar to each other as possible and therefore one looks for similarities
IJPDLM and aims for a high internal homogeneity; while at the same time aiming for external
42,8/9 heterogeneity (Kluge, 1999). The aim for external heterogeneity proliferates the
suitability for exploratory studies as it requires a wider coverage of different research

Adaptation of the documentary method to logistics: an illustrative case

834 Having explained the philosophical origin and the process of the documentary method,
it should not be forgotten that the method was developed for a research study about
youth cultures in the social sciences, using open interviews for the data collection. Such
an open interview structure might not be chosen by logistics researchers for practical
reasons of access and the time available at the research site.
The authors want to present an adaptation of the documentary method to the field
of logistics, which puts more importance on the rephrasing interpretation and less on
the discourse compared to Bohnsacks (1989) original method. The adaptation was
made in this case because the researchers were interested in the logistics processes
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themselves, which need the what facts from the rephrasing interpretation, as well as
the tacit knowledge carried by logistics employees. Therefore, rephrasing
interpretation and reflective interpretation became more interwoven in this study
than suggested by Bohnsack. This highlights two advantages of the documentary
method: it is adaptable to the specific research question and focus, and it is of
particular benefit if the focus lies on practice in particular the relationship between
employees and logistic processes (i.e. relevance). A brief description of the study
follows, bearing in mind that it is used purely for illustrative purposes: as a context
from which to explicate the application, adaptation and value of the method.
Two illustrative examples are drawn from a larger exploratory study of in-store
logistics processes in retail companies. The aim of the study was to investigate how
employees in a retail setting understand and interact with replenishment processes to
improve on-shelf availability and reduce out-of-stocks. The documentary method was
particularly appropriate to this research as it combined an interpretation of employees
tacit knowledge with the ability to draw more generalizable insights about logistics
systems and processes. Data was collected in 30 interviews with employees involved
in-store replenishment across hierarchical levels from shop floor to senior management
at six market-leading retailers, operating in four different retail sectors in three different
European countries. The selection of interviewees was based on the criterion that they
were informed and experienced respondents, which in this case means they were directly
involved in the design or execution of in-store replenishment, and as such included store
managers, head office merchandise managers or customer service assistants. Six
companies were chosen to give a heterogeneous sample of retailers. While the
documentary method originally calls for open interviews to allow respondents to
express themselves fully and to set the flow of the interview, such a fully open interview
was considered infeasible for this study. Negotiating access for interviews at retail
companies was difficult enough, and one had to consider that participating companies
would not accept the long interview durations usually anticipated with open interviews.
This can be a disadvantage of the method, but one open to adaptation.
Further, retail stores usually have a very hands-on operational work mentality, and
the level of trust that would be needed for a fully open and deep interview seemed to be
not achievable within such a short time frame. Also, after discussion with research
stakeholders, a sample size of 30 interviews was agreed and the conduct of in-depth Using the
interviews would have generated an unmanageable amount of data for the research documentary
project. Under these limitations, the study amended the research approach to using
semi-structured interviews. The interviews were structured around three main topics method
derived from literature. Within these topic areas the flow was dominated by the
participant and the researcher only used probes where appropriate and applicable. To
give the respondents the freedom to express their own views and to make them lead the 835
interview direction, the questions were open and rather general.
The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. Although the analysis of the
full study takes the environment and interview situation into consideration, for the
purposes of this paper the main focus is on the interview transcripts. For the analysis
story-telling pieces are particularly valuable. These can be identified by certain
narrative structures, such as the progression of events, for example connected through
expressions such as and then [. . .]. The rephrasing part of the analysis looks at
what the interviewee said without changing its meaning.
The following example is cut out of a 70 lines response from a head office project
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manager at a British grocery retailer to the initial interview question: Whats

happening to a product from the point when it arrives at a store? It provides a short
example of rich description in that it offers a detailed comprehensible story of
experience and events:
So whoever is receiving it should check the high value against the delivery note and really check
it off line by line. [...] And then youll have seen the back-door book, where they receive
everything. So if its temperature checked, theyll attempt to check it and just log it all down, all
the drivers details, his van details, time of delivery, temperature and who signed for it, thats in
the book. And then from there it depends on what replenishment activities youve got on. So
whether generally in a big store, Id say we replenish at a night, so when weve not got that many
customers in. In a smaller store, I think its just load it in at backdoor, load it straight out onto
shop floor and start merchandising. Rules are you bring your old stock forward and replenish to
the back. [...] We have rules for presentation levels of what should you have on at all times in
terms of presentation. And then you just replenish from the back. Bring the old stuff forward
and put it to the back. And then we have the daily disciplines, that youve probably seen in store,
like the gap checking or other reports, we have like low stock reports, high stock reports.
At the rephrasing analysis this translates into: High value deliveries should be
compared against the delivery sheet. All delivery details need to be put down in the
back-door book. At a large store, replenishment happens at night, when fewer
customers are in the store. At smaller stores the delivery is brought directly into the
shop floor for replenishment. Rules exist for the presentation levels and to fill up from
the back. Daily tasks are stock checks and gap checks.
Not only does the rephrasing analysis compress the content; it also forces the
researcher to think about what the interviewee is really saying. What the interviewee is
really saying can sometimes be debatable and the researcher might want to discuss the
analysis with other researchers that are involved in the project. As an illustration the text
piece we have the daily disciplines is considered. A standard dictionary would describe
disciplines as rules. However, how binding rules are would depend on the way they
are enforced. Therefore, the meaning of disciplines can vary between an order that
must be adhered to and a recommendation. In this case the researcher chose to use it as
tasks as the central organisation wanted stores to perform these checks, but in another
IJPDLM part of the interview the respondent actually states that the organisation has no control
42,8/9 whether the stores do it. Thus, the rephrasing into tasks was chosen.
Through the rephrasing analysis the research finds out about the content or the
what of the interview. Afterwards, the reflective analysis looks at the how level of
the same text sample:

836 {a} So whoever is receiving it should check the high value against the
delivery note and really check it off line by line. [...] And then youll have
seen the back-doorbook, where they receive everything. So if its temperature
checked , theyll attempt to check it and just log it all down, all the drivers

details, his van details, time of delivery, temperature and who signed for it,
thats in the book. {b} And then from there it depends on what replenishment
activities youve got on. So whether generally in a big store, Id say we
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replenish at a night, so when weve not got that many customers in. In a
smal ler store, I think its just load it in at backdoor, load it straight out onto
shop floor and start merchandising. Rules are you bring your old stock
forward and replenish to the back. [...] {c} We have rules for presentation
levels of what should you have on at all times in terms of presentation. And
then you just replenish from the back. Bring the old stuff forward and put it to
the back. And then we have the daily disciplines, that youve probably seen in
store, like the gap checking or other reports, we have like low stock reports,
high stock reports.

Looking at the sample text above, we have divided it based on content into three parts:
the store receives a delivery; replenishment; and product availability on-shelf.
Throughout the response the matter of control is one issue that arises. Words that
express control are underlined in the above text sample; expressions that signal
ambiguity or qualification are italicised. Parts {a} and {c} are dominated by control;
whereas part shows more expressions of vagueness. This analysis is based on the
researchers perception of the text and the situation; although the researchers could
probe for the right understanding during the interview itself, it may be recommended
to triangulate these perceptions in discussion with other researchers.
The researchers may therefore interpret that the organisations central office, which
the interviewee belongs to, has less control over the structure of replenishment processes
that are going on in the store than about other areas of the business. The point where and
when products are delivered is strongly controlled, however the flow of the product in
the store goes out of the central offices control; it then regains control by putting control
procedures and measures in at the shelf. However, as we know from the rephrasing
analysis, these control measures may or may not be followed by the store.
From this excerpt, one can say that the respondent who is at the retailers
organisational centre does not have a sufficient overview of the replenishment process
that is happening in the stores. The delivery reception, which is the boundary between
central organisation and the store, can still be controlled. After that the store is in Using the
charge and the central organisation can only obtain a final measure of results and is documentary
unable to control the process execution itself.
In order to identify typologies, one has to see the analysed data in contrast to other method
interviews. The second example text piece is therefore chosen from an interview with a
head office store process manager at a Continental European do-it-yourself (DIY)
retailer. The text piece is cut from his 51 lines answer to the same initial question as in the 837
first example Whats happening to a product from the point when it arrives at a store?
[...] We separate into eight to twelve [...] logistics streams. Depending on which logistics stream
the product belongs to, it is either detail checked at reception or it is brought into the store
without further checks. [...] Using the supplier and the log stream, the receiver knows whether
the product needs to be checked or not. If it does not get detail checked; it is only overseen
whether the number of packs is correct, whether the packs are undamaged. Then the entire
thing is ticked off in the system [...] Going into sale means that it is brought to the individual
departments by the reception [...] Does an entire pallet go into the store, then it happens very
often that it is a mixed pallet. For example, it contains not only items for the plumbing area;
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it can also contain five or six buckets of paint. [...] Then the pallet is brought to the area of
the product that needs to be taken off the top first. [...] We work with different colours. So
that every one of us knows, when there is a yellow writing, he knows precisely which area it is.
[...] We have separated our sales area into modules. Every metre is modulised [...].
The rephrasing analysis results in: The company has eight to 12 logistics streams.
The logistics stream determines to which detail a product needs to be checked at the
store. After the product is given free, it is brought to the shop floor by the goods
reception. Mixed pallets are brought to the department to which the most upper
product on the pallet belongs to. The replenishment system uses a company-wide
colour coding and standardised modules for its shelf plans. Again, the reflective
analysis follows for this text sample:
[...] We separate into eight to twelve [...] logistics streams. Depending on
which logistics stream the product belongs to, it is either detail checked at

reception or it is brought into the store without further checks. [...] Using the
supplier and the log stream, the receiver knows whether the product needs to
be checked or not. If it does not get detail checked; it is only overseen
whether the number of packs is correct, whether the packs are undamaged.

Then the entire thing is ticked off in the system [...] Going into sale means
that it is brought to the individual departments by the reception [...] Does an
entire pallet go into the store, then it happens very often that it is a mixed
pallet. For example, it contains not only items for the plumbing area; it can

also contain five or six buckets of paint. [...] Then the pallet is brought to the
area of the product that needs to be taken off the top first. [...] We work with
different colours. So that every one of us knows, when there is a yellow
writing, he knows precisely which area it is. [...] We have separated our sales

area into modules. Every metre is modulised. [...]

IJPDLM Much like the first excerpt, this second piece also contains words of control.
42,8/9 Nevertheless, the first step of control when the product arrives uses harder words such
as check and control. The second cloud of control is more about standardisation and
ownership, with words like every and knows. The words underlined with a
straight line show variance in the processes, where things can go further in different
ways. The bold expresses when the product is moved forward through the process.
838 In contrast to the first piece, the DIY interviewee showed that he is aware of all the
different ways a product goes throughout the replenishment process and he explains in
detail the processes that are applied in each case. This may be due to his position in the
central office, where his main task is to monitor adherence to centrally given logistics
processes in the stores and distribution centres. The interview response is structured in
a way that the description of a product movement occurs with a cloud of words that
express process separation. The step of potential process separation is then followed
by words that suggest control/standardisation. Through this pattern of alternating
movement options with process control, the company achieves standardisation and
can afford variety in their processes without drifting into confusion.
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The second piece also does not use any words of uncertainty, i.e. where the
participant is not completely sure what happens. Thus, process ownership and central
control is achieved very differently in the two examples. In example one, the grocery
retailer tries to gain control by monitoring reports and by giving rules. The DIY
retailer in example two instead gives employees a manual for a system in which they
operate. The processes are organised and prepared in a way that the store employees
handle them independently in accordance with process guidelines.
Overall, the two different types evolving from these two cases are that the grocery
retailer aims to control processes by controlling results, whilst the DIY retailer controls
the processes by owning them and controlling that the processes are conducted
properly. As this example is only based on two smaller pieces from interviews, the
entire data set would have to be investigated to confirm this typology, however that is
out of scope for the purposes of this paper.

This paper offers an example of a qualitative research method drawn from education
studies the documentary method that can be adapted and used for logistics
research. Based on a social constructionist perspective, the method combines a
subjective and objective stance: subjectivity in terms of garnering and interpreting
participants perceptions, comments and narratives and interpreting how they
construct their realities and objectivity in terms of the researchers construction of
types and comparative analysis of typifications that allows a degree of generalization.
The value of the method to logistics research is that it seeks to use the tacit
knowledge of actors to help the researcher understand the complexities and operation
of logistics processes. In other words, it directly addresses the issue of relevance to
practice. The documentary method focuses not just on what the process or system is,
or what it is intended to be which is often the outcome of objectivist research,
particularly when the researcher relies on observation and process documents but
also on how the process is constructed, perceived and enacted by those involved in
the process. This offers a basis for identifying the issues and problems involved in
the everyday operation of logistics. As demonstrated in the two examples, logistics
processes do not always operate as intended and control measures may or may not be Using the
followed by the store. The researchers gained an immanent perspective of those actors documentary
right at the centre of the process and could thus work with them to resolve problems.
Compared to surveys and structured interviews, which usually centres around method
concerns of the researcher rather than those of employees, the documentary method
provides rich data of relevance to practice because it engages the tacit knowledge of
actors. This can provide a way of unearthing issues, concerns and problems that 839
otherwise may not be immediately obvious to the researcher. Instead of testing theory or
researcher-based hypotheses, this method develops theory inductively and
systematically, which leads to knowledge development in logistics by providing a
basis upon which researchers can re-theorize and practitioners re-structure processes.
The two examples illustrate how control is understood differently at the two retail
companies (the grocery retailer looked at results as a measure of control; the DIY retailer
controlled the adherence to process execution guidelines by monitoring the process
execution itself). This can be used to theorize control from different perspectives.
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Methodologically, the paper contributes to a call to use more qualitative methods in

logistics research (Naslund, 2002; Mangan et al., 2004), Stocks (1997) specific call for
methodology knowledge transfers from other disciplines to the field of logistics, and
represents research at the boundary-spanning era highlighted by Kent and Flint (1997).
While the documentary method is not suitable for all research questions, particularly
sheer mathematical problems in logistics, it is most suitable for exploratory research
which focuses on answering the how and why questions. Further, this method suits
social and human resources aspects in processes, which is becoming more important in
research (Kent and Flint, 1997; Neumann and Dul, 2010).
The method may also be criticized, from a positivist perspective, as lacking in
rigour or validity discussed by Mentzer and Flint (1997). However, from a subjectivist
perspective rigour is judged in different ways; for example Golden-Biddle and Locke
(1993) argue similarly to Halldorsson and Aastrup (2003) that the rigour or
trustworthiness of ethnographic work is based on the three criteria of:
(1) Authenticity has the researcher provided enough detail to show they have
been there and gathered and analysed data in a discipline way?
(2) Plausibility does the connection between the description/data and the
conceptualization make sense?
(3) Criticality does the text cause the reader to see the situation differently?

These criteria can be applied as indicators of trustworthiness relating to the use of the
documentary method, which offers rich description, a systematic analysis, and a
development of types through a reconstructive methodology.
As cautioned above the appropriateness of a selected methodology and data analysis
method very much depends on the research question. The two examples provided herein
were used to illustrate how the documentary method may be adapted to the logistics
discipline to offer different conceptualizations of practice. In contrast to more positivist
methodologies, which are seen to be rigorous but not necessarily relevant, the
documentary method bridges the rigour-relevance gap by systematically developing
theory from practice. This paper aims to encourage the transfer and use of new methods
as a means of widening the knowledge base and relevance of logistics research.
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About the authors

Alexander Trautrims (BA Hons, MSc, PGDip, PhD) is a Lecturer in Logistics and Supply Chain
842 Management in the Logistics Institute at the University of Hull, Kingston-upon-Hull, UK. Before
coming to the University of Hull, he received his MSc in Logistics and Supply Chain
Management at the Logistics Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK.
His research focuses on retail logistics, particularly issues regarding on-shelf availability and
store processes. For his PhD he investigated in-store processes across European retailers.
Alexander Trautrims is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
David B. Grant (BComm, MBA, MSc, PhD) is Professor and Director at the Logistics Institute,
University of Hull, UK. His research interests include customer service, satisfaction and service
quality, retail logistics, logistics and supply chain relationships, and sustainable logistics. His
recent applied research has investigated on-shelf availability and out-of-stocks, total loss and
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waste in food retailing, forecasting and obsolete inventory, service quality of internet retailers,
and consumer logistics and shopping convenience. He has over 125 publications in refereed
journals, books and conference proceedings, is on six journal editorial boards, and is a member of
the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Education Strategies Committee and the
British Retail Consortiums Storage and Distribution Technical Advisory Committee.
Ann L. Cunliffe (BA Hons, MPhil, PhD) is ASM Alumni Professor at the University of New
Mexico and Visiting Professor at Leeds University, Hull University and Strathclyde University.
She obtained her MPhil and PhD degrees from Lancaster University. Her research interests lie in
examining the relationship between language and collaborative, responsive and ethical ways of
leading and managing organizations. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of Management Learning
and organizer of the Qualitative Research in Management and Organization conference.
Chee Wong (BEng, MSc, PhD, PGCHE) is a Senior Lecturer in Operations Management from
the University of Hull Business School and Logistics Institute. He teaches international logistics,
logistics and supply chain management, and operations management. He researches supply
chain strategy, sustainable logistics, third party logistics, global logistics, and operations

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